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States’ underinvestment in road repair signals need for tough federal standards

Consider a couple of eye-popping statistics:

From 2004-2008, states spent 57 percent of available highway dollars to add a little over 1 percent to our already vast highway network, and only 43 percent to maintain the other 99 percent of highway lanes.

Keeping our existing highway network in “good” condition would require spending $43 billion a year over the next 20 years, well over the total, combined amount spent today on new construction and preservation.

Those are two of the findings in a report out today from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads. The report examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and found that, as a result of their spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

The short version: We’ve spent 60 years building highways, the bill for their maintenance is coming due – and it’s a doozy! Left to their own volition, the states are not doing the job. As Grace Crunican, the former DOT head for Oregon, said during the media telebriefing on the report, “There’s a lot of political pressure to put money into new projects. … We’ve got to find the discipline” to keep our roads properly maintained, she said.

It’s time for Washington to fix it. States have to be held to high standards, and the money they receive should be tied to accountability on that score. The share of money that is walled off for maintenance and that can’t be siphoned off for “sexy” – Crunican’s word – pet political projects has to be much larger than it is now.

Congress is currently in the process of drafting a new transportation bill, and lawmakers need to keep a laser-like focus on the repair and rehabilitation of American’s existing roads and bridges. We cannot build a 21st century transportation system until we take care of what we built in the 20th.

You can find more information about this new SGA and Taxpayers’ report, including a state-by-state map, here.

Smart Growth America contributed to this post.